This has to rank as one of my favourite buildings I have ever visited. It is a private chapel not generally open to the public, but after requesting permission to do a photo essay of the building in 2014 the owners could not have been more welcoming. I had complete access after agreeing a time when it would not be in use. It was a real privilege, and although I am not religious I have to say the interior has the most serene and contemplative atmosphere of any building I have ever visited.
Bishop Edward King Chapel is the chapel of Ripon College Cuddesdon, a Church of England theological college, and of the Sisters of the Communities of St John Baptist and the Good Shepherd, a community of Anglican nuns.
The chapel is dedicated to Edward King, who was Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College 1863–73 and Bishop of Lincoln 1885–1910.
Following an architectural design competition managed by RIBA Competitions the elliptical building designed by Niall McLaughlin Architects was selected. It was shortlisted and runner-up for the Stirling Prize in 2013 and shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
Endowed by the Cuddesdon Sisters, their brief to the architect was "for the chapel to be foremost a place for the cultivation of personal prayer as well as of public worship. We knew that what was needed was not just a building but a work of art which would touch the spirit.”
McLaughlin’s proposal stood out because of the depth of understanding and inspiration it demonstrated from a strategic to a detailed level. The elliptical shape with its two focal points on the altar and lectern is a brilliantly simple innovative response to the traditional ‘college’ configuration for a chapel. This simple idea is just part of an approach that is both poetic – ‘the first architectural image was of a buoyant, tethered boat’ – and technically sophisticated.
"The vision for this place of worship – with its use of light, space, glass, wood and stone – really captures our hope for the church and the world, and for the shaping of religious and spiritual life."
Born in London in 1829, Edward King, both as a priest and then as a bishop, was revered for the holiness of his life and the wisdom of his counsel. He was chaplain, then principal, of Cuddesdon Theological College, followed by a dozen years as a professor of theology in Oxford, during which time he exercised a great influence on a generation of ordinands. In 1885, he was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Lincoln, a position he held until his death.
"The project encapsulates two architectural images. The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather the light from the leaves. The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. The way in which these two opposite forces work off each other is what gives the building its particular character."